Front Office

Why We Need More Sportsmanship on the Field, on the Sidelines, and in the Office

By Melissa Wickes
March 5, 2024
3 min

We’re experiencing a sportsmanship crisis in youth sports. Now, you might think that sounds a little dramatic, but the reality is parents are getting angrier, treating coaches and referees worse, and teaching their kids that this is an acceptable way to behave—on the court and in life. 

The number of stories popping up where parents are being thrown out of youth sports games (like former NFL quarterback Cam Newton) for referee and coach harassment is growing. So much so, 50,000 referees have quit in the last three years. 

There are a number of reasons that can be attributed to this rise in unsportsmanlike behavior, one of which is the financial burden it takes to participate. Some families are spending up to $10,000 a season, causing parents to hyper-fixate on seeing a return. Enter aggressive sideline behavior and a win-at-all-costs mentality. Now, kids are embarrassed, anxious, and they don’t want to play because it isn’t fun anymore. 

It shouldn’t feel so hard to return to this culture of sportsmanship—after all, it is one of the core values that youth sports teaches all of us. That’s why it’s one of our values at LeagueApps, and why we award one employee each year with an award in its name.

This year’s winner, Ryan Bulaclac—an Engineering Manager at LeagueApps who has volunteered with youth athletes in underserved communities—shares his tips for sportsmanship, and why it’s crucial for any successful team, below.  

Why is sportsmanship important for a successful team? 

Sportsmanship is hugely important for a high-performing team. Everyone on a team has their roles to play to contribute to the success of the entire team.

How do you hold yourself accountable to be sportsmanlike on the days things aren’t going your way? 

It can definitely be hard on those days where it feels like things pile up. The thing I try to remind myself is that whatever is going on at that time doesn’t define me as a person. If I’m having a bad work day, that doesn’t define who I am. If I’m having a bad day on the court or field, that doesn’t define who I am. Life is so much bigger than what is bothering you at a specific moment; when you can focus on that larger perspective, it makes it easier to pull back and get your head into a better space.

How do you cultivate a culture of sportsmanship on sports teams? 

I’m very much a person who believes in visualization, and I try to pass that along to the kids. The “golden rule’ may be seen as cliche by some, but I really do believe in it. “If that happened to you, how would you feel?” is a powerful question to try to humanize their opponents.

How do you cultivate a culture of sportsmanship on your team at work? 

I tend to look at the LeagueApps SPORTSDOG values as values that rely upon each other. In order to foster a sense of Sportsmanship on the team, I think it’s important that we stress other values like Openness, Own Your Role, and Student of the Game. I try to encourage our team to learn from each other, regardless of your job title or skill level. When a team is able to stay humble and open, they’re able to learn and grow together so much faster.

What can we learn from sportsmanship in youth sports that can be applied to our “adult jobs?”

Sportsmanship plays the biggest part in how we treat each other, whether it’s in our “adult jobs” or any other relationship we have with other people. While working with other people, it’s important to keep in mind that everyone is trying to do their job and fulfill their requirements, and that we’re ultimately all working towards the same goal, albeit in different ways sometimes. Disagreements and debate should be expected, but they can’t be productive if both parties don’t enter it in good faith.

Do you have any advice to the parents out there that are teaching their kids unsportsmanlike behavior at youth games?

Take a deep breath, take a step back, and put yourselves in the other peoples’ shoes in that situation. The other team is full of kids and parents doing their best to achieve the same goal your kids’ team is striving for; the referees are there doing their best to keep things as fair as possible; and most importantly, your child and family are watching one of their role models behave in a way that they probably will regret later.

Do you have any advice to the coaches/ organizers facing this issue?

Continue to treat others with respect, and just know that you can only control how you yourself reacts when something happens. People tend to start to feel foolish when their excessive behavior is met with someone who is calm and listens, which in turn usually has them back down.


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